Hope for North as coronavirus infections halved in lockdown – cases down 30% in England

Around 99 percent of England is set to be put into harsher tier restrictions (Image: Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

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Coronavirus infections are down 30 per cent in England and have halved in the North during lockdown, according to the latest findings.

Over 105,000 volunteers were tested across the country by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI, with interim findings – published today – from November 13-24 showing 96 people per 10,000 infected.

It is the seventh report of the REACT study – one of England's largest probes to examine the levels of infection in the general public.

The study also shows the national R rate was estimated to be 0.88 – putting it below 1 for the first time since August, with the virus halving every 37 days.

Downing Street hopes its new harsher tiering system – to come into place from Wednesday – will be crucial in safeguarding these gains, bringing down infections further, and keeping infection rates low.

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The findings show cases were rising as Boris Johnson thrust England into a second lockdown at the start of November but this was followed by a decrease as national measures successfully lowered infection rates across the country.

Pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops were forced to close, and people were again be banned from leaving their homes except for very specific reasons.

The Prime Minister said that without action, deaths would have reached "several thousand a day", with a "peak of mortality" worse than the first peak in April, during a snap press conference on October 31.

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And with the lockdown due to end, he has now re-introduced a stricter tier system, with around 99 percent of England plunged into the top two tiers.

It means, much of the country could be banned from meeting family and friends indoors until March.

Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Scilly Isles have been placed in the lowest Tier 1 category – around 1 percent of the population.

Cornwall is one of just three areas in England that will be in Tier 1
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said the previous tier system had failed to suppress the infection rate properly.

Findings from SAGE show stronger measures would be needed in some areas to prevent the epidemic from growing and that local tiers needed to be toughened.

The REACT study found infections fell by over 50% in the North West and North East, with prevalence highest in the West Midlands, East Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.

While gains have been made to bring down infections, prevalence of the disease remains high with around 1 in 100 people testing positive compared to 1 in 80 between October 16 and November 2.

Rates are now highest in the West Midlands – having dropped to 1.55 percent from 1.56 percent – meaning 155 people per 10,000 have the virus and seeing much of the region in the severest Tier 3.

The report also states people of Asian ethnicity have increased odds of testing positive compared with white people.

And those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods have higher odds of testing positive than those living in less deprived neighbourhoods.

There is also an increase in prevalence among people living in the largest households.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: "Thanks to the huge efforts of the public over the last few weeks we have been able to get the virus more under control.

"This latest data shows we must keep our resolve and we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal just yet, despite the encouraging fall in cases and progress on vaccines.

"The next few weeks and months are the busiest time of year for our NHS, so it’s vital we all continue to follow new local restrictions, wash our hands, wear a face covering and observe social distancing."

Professor Paul Elliot of Imperial College

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said: "Our robust data offers encouraging signs for England’s epidemic, where we’re seeing a fall in infections at the national level and in particular across regions that were previously worst affected.

"These trends suggest that the tiered approach helped to curb infections in these areas and that lockdown has added to this effect.

"As we approach a challenging time of year, it’s even more vital that through our actions and behaviours we all play our part in helping to keep the virus at bay."

This REACT study commissioned was by the Government's Department of Health and Social Care and carried out by scientists, clinicians and researchers at Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Ipsos MORI.

Mass community testing using rapid lateral flow tests is set to be offered to areas facing the toughest restrictions.

It will enable areas to detect asymptomatic cases and isolate them to protect others.

Tiers will be reviewed every two weeks, beginning on December 16, though all of the UK will see a temporary easing of measures over Christmas.

Three households will be allowed to meet indoors over five days between December 23-27.

Decisions on tiers are made by ministers based on public health recommendations.

These are informed by a variety of criteria including local context, pressure on the NHS as well as case detection rate, how quickly cases are changing and positivity in the general population.

Kelly Beaver, managing director of public affairs at Ipsos MORI said: "The REACT study programme has processed over one million tests as we track in real time the prevalence of Covid-19 across England.

"We’re incredibly grateful to all those members of the public who’ve taken part, who have contributed to this vitally important study."

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